Employer Satisfaction with Health Plan Providers Declining

January 19, 2010 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Employers in the United States have become less satisfied with their health plan providers, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute.

Overall satisfaction of health insurers by large employers has decreased to 59% from 64% in 2008, according to a press release. Small employers continue to be less satisfied with health insurers than large employers, with overall satisfaction remaining steady at 52%. 

The research indicates that employers of all sizes are taking a critical look at their health benefits strategy and the value they derive from it.  They are looking to their health plan providers for information, technology and strategies to help reduce waste in health care spending and better engage employees in managing their health.

Claims processing, administrative fees, and provider discounts remain among the most important basic service offerings for large and small employers, though among large employers, wellness programs surpassed provider discounts as the more important offering.

Interest in personal technology tools such as personal health records and online comparison tools is surging, the press release said. Nearly half of all employers say it is important for insurers to offer these tools, but less than half are satisfied with what they are getting.

Other research findings included:

  • Employee cost-sharing continues to be the most prevalent cost-cutting strategy for employers. Sixty percent of employers surveyed said they would further increase cost-sharing for health care with their employees in the year ahead.
  • While wellness and disease management programs are popular among employers – 71% of companies surveyed now offer wellness programs and 67% offer disease management programs – companies that offer them are frustrated with the low level of employee participation, which continues to hover at around 50%. Many employers are finding that simple financial incentives such as cash, gift cards, and annual premium savings are no longer working as a way to engage employees.

What Employers Want from Health Plan Providers

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute’s What Employers Want from Health Plans found that small and large employers are now more closely aligned in what they want from insurers than in 2008 when there were distinct gaps between what each group considered most important. 

The importance of wellness programs continues to be the area with the greatest gap between large and small employers.  Nearly 80% of large employers indicate that wellness programs are important to them, compared with 57% of small employers, according to a press release.

However, wellness programs and personal health records are the two service areas that experienced the largest increase in importance among small employers since 2008.

Performance guarantees continue to be rated the least important financial service offering among large employers, dropping almost 20 percentage points in importance and satisfaction since 2008.  PwC said this could indicate that employers are not getting clear value from existing performance guarantees, and employers need better information on their employee population to determine how to structure performance guarantees to meet their expectations for health and financial outcomes.

Recommendations for insurers based on PricewaterhouseCoopers’ analysis include:

  • Be a consultative partner with employers to help improve workers’ health and advocate for employer health strategies.
  • Take a more active role in waste reduction.
  • Offer better strategies for engaging employees in wellness and disease management programs.
  • Provide more meaningful, actionable and higher-quality data to build workforce profiles that will help employers better understand the health of their workforce, find intervention points for better outcomes, and create targeted outreach and engagement campaigns.
  • Deliver consistent and transparent health benefit plan reporting.
  • Provide personal technology tools for employees.
  • Assist in the continuity and coordination of care among patients and physicians.
  • Provide education that will simplify health plans and benefits, engage workers in real behavior change, and translate benefit information into actions that promote wellness.

 A full copy of the report is available at http://www.pwc.com/us/whatemployerswant.